Sunday, September 7, 2014

Any headline ending in a question mark can be answered by the word "no"

Betteridge's law of headlines is an adage that states: "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." It is named after Ian Betteridge, a British technology journalist, although the general concept is much older. ...

Betteridge explained the concept in a February 2009 article, regarding a TechCrunch article with the headline "Did Last.fm Just Hand Over User Listening Data To the RIAA?":
This story is a great demonstration of my maxim that any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word "no". The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bull****, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run it.
Five years before Betteridge's article, a similar observation was made by UK journalist Andrew Marr in his 2004 book My Trade. It was among Marr's suggestions for how a reader should approach a newspaper if they really wish to know what is going on:
If the headline asks a question, try answering 'no'. Is This the True Face of Britain's Young? (Sensible reader: No.) Have We Found the Cure for AIDS? (No; or you wouldn't have put the question mark in.) Does This Map Provide the Key for Peace? (Probably not.) A headline with a question mark at the end means, in the vast majority of cases, that the story is tendentious or over-sold. It is often a scare story, or an attempt to elevate some run-of-the-mill piece of reporting into a national controversy and, preferably, a national panic. To a busy journalist hunting for real information a question mark means 'don't bother reading this bit'.
--Wikipedia on questionable stories with questioning titles